UPDATE: Dietrich honored with star in Berlin. See our GW Blog:
Marlene Dietrich stars in Berlin
Film goddess and tarnished angel
“The Germans and I no longer
speak the same language.”
— Marlene Dietrich in 1960 after a sometimes stormy reception
in her native Germany. (Quoted in Blue Angel by Donald Spoto.)
Starting with her breakthrough role as the sultry, unfaithful cabaret singer Lola Lola in The Blue Angel (Der blaue Engel) in 1930, Marlene Dietrich, the Kraut (as Ernest Hemingway called his pal), went on to make film history with her alluring looks in films such as Blonde Venus (1932), Destry Rides Again (1939), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). In a varied career of acting, singing, and dancing, Dietrich conquered Las Vegas and Broadway in the 1960s, and went on a world tour in the 1970s. Over a period of several decades Marlene Dietrich was the ultimate Hollywood woman of mystery and a symbol of erotic allure for several generations of moviegoers.
She was born December 27, 1901 in Schöneberg (now part of Berlin) as the second daughter of Louis Erich Otto Dietrich and Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine Felsing. (Most people never knew that Marlene had an older sister, Elisabeth, and they were unlikely to ever learn about it from Marlene.) Herr Dietrich was a police lieutenant, and his newest daughter was born in their modest apartment at Sedanstraße 53 (now Leberstraße 65). The future film star, who would later declare, When you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s it, was given the angelic name Maria Magdalene. Her family called her Lene (LAY-na) or Leni and this may have influenced her when at the age of only thirteen she cut out the center part of “Maria Magdalene” to form the unique name Marlene. She would later use this childhood creation to identify the budding film star who was to be known around the world as Marlene Dietrich.
Marlene’s father died when she was only five (in 1907). She and her sister were raised by her mother. (Wilhelmina was later married briefly to Eduard von Losch, giving rise to biographic confusion over Marlene’s surname, which was always Dietrich.)
|*Dietrich’s gravestone quotation is adapted from...
“Abschied vom Leben” (“Farewell to Life”)
First verse in German and English:
Die Wunde brennt, die bleichen Lippen beben,
After her arrival in Hollywood with Blue Angel director Josef von Sternberg, the two made a series of successful films together. Dietrich starred in such notable films as Morocco (1930), Shanghai Express (1932), Blonde Venus (1932), and The Devil is a Woman (1935). (See Dietrich’s full filmography.) After the two went their separate ways, Dietrich had a rough patch before regaining her footing once again as “Frenchy” in Destry Rides Again (1939) opposite Jimmy Stewart.
As a USO entertainer in World War II, often in uniform and near the front, Marlene displayed her devotion to her adopted country. (Dietrich became a US citizen in 1939.) She seemed to thrive on entertaining the troops and cavorting about in uniform. But this patriotic act was perceived by many in her native land as treason (ignoring the fact that Dietrich was anti-Nazi, not anti-German). In 1947 Marlene Dietrich received the US Medal of Freedom for her war efforts.
In 1960, for the first time since leaving Germany 30 years before, she performed on stage in her hometown of Berlin. She drew a mixed reaction of adulation and “Marlene Go Home!” As a result, she firmly refused to return to Germany until after her death. (“The Germans and I no longer speak the same language.”)
In her seventies, problems with those famous Dietrich legs, other health concerns, and obsessive vanity led her to withdraw from public view. Her last stage appearance was in Sydney, Australia (where she fell and broke her left leg) in September 1975. Dietrich made her last film appearance in Just a Gigolo (1979) at the age of 77 — lured back into a studio by $250,000 for two half-days work. Thirteen years later, a sad recluse, alcoholic, and a prisoner of her own legend, Marlene Dietrich died in Paris at her Avenue Montaigne apartment in 1992. She is buried in her native Berlin. Her vast memorabilia collection was acquired by the city-state of Berlin in 1993 for 8 million marks ($5 million). Many objects from the collection are now housed in a special exhibit at the Film Museum (Deutsche Kinemathek) in the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz in the German capital city.
NEXT > Dietrich in Berlin
FILMS > Dietrich’s Movies and more
MORE > German-Hollywood Connections
DVD > Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection - Five of her films: Morocco,
Blonde Venus, The Devil Is a Woman, Flame of New Orleans, Golden Earrings
Related German Way Pages
- Dietrich’s Movies - Filmography
- Ufa and the Babelsberg studios - Dietrich made The Blue Angel for Ufa near Berlin.
- Fritz Lang - Dietrich made several films with this Austrian-born director
- Marlene Dietrich stars in Berlin (GW Expat Blog)
- Billy Wilder Filmography - Dietrich made two films directed by Wilder.
- Famous German Movies - Films from Germany have made their mark on world cinema—and influenced Hollywood.
- Germans (and Others) in Hollywood - About the three main waves of Germanic immigration to Hollywood
- Berlin City Guide - Sights, history
- German Cinema - From the German Way book
- Famous Germans, Austrians and Swiss
- Famous Graves - The graves and cemeteries of the famous
Dietrich On the Web
- Marlene.com (official site)
- Marlene Dietrich Collection Berlin (MDCB)
- Marlene in Berlin (Deutsche Kinemathek - Museum)
MORE > German-Hollywood Connections
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